Thursday, March 30, 2017

Can Hemp Plastics Help the World?

By Julie Godard

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Yes. Yes, they can. I can’t believe this, but up until a few days ago, I had never heard of hemp plastic! Have you heard of it? What have you heard, and when did you first hear it? I was so excited about the prospect of a plastic material that wouldn’t end up clogging up our waterways and hurting plants, animals, and the planet that I had to delve into the research right away. Here’s what I found out.

What Is Hemp Plastic?

Technically, it’s not the plastic you’re familiar with – and that’s the best part. This plastic is made from hemp fiber material that can act just like traditional plastic in most ways. In one important way, hemp plastic is nothing like traditional, polymer-based plastics: it biodegrades, quickly. (In case you don’t know, petroleum plastic water bottles take 450-1000 years to biodegrade.) As Hemp Plastic notes, “conventional plastic is not biodegradable,” and it’s also not an infinite resource – oil is required to make plastic, further depleting the planet’s natural resources that could be used for other things. The high cellulose content in hemp makes it tough enough to be made into a plastic – since hemp grows so much faster than trees and produces four times as much cellulose fiber, it is also sustainable.

What is Hemp Plastic Already Being Used For?

Hemp plastic is a bio-based plastic and composite, technically, and it is already being used by the automotive industry, the packaging industry, and the construction industry – to the tune of 500,000 tons per year, including the European Union. Hemp plastics can be five times as stiff and strong as traditional polypropylene plastic, and it will not damage screws or molds like glass fibers in many car parts do. (Hemp plastics have been used since 1941, when Henry Ford used it for car doors and fenders). Traditional glass fiber car parts are also health hazards, whereas hemp plastic is not. In 1997, researchers created a 25% hemp plastic product called “high fly”; today at Hemp Plastics you can buy plastic boxes, plastic bags, plastic PVC pipes, keyrings, bowls, digeridoos, DVD cases, door handles, and plastic molds. Since hemp plastic can’t be made transparent at the present time, they can’t make a clear film out of it to place the ubiquitous Saran Wrap. Lego is even looking into hemp plastics, according to The Sun Times.The Lotus Eco Elise, created in 2008, uses hemp and other eco-friendly products.

How Can Hemp Plastic Help the World?

Hemp can prevent the extensive cutting down of trees, and we can substitute hemp plastics for many of the things we use fiberglass, wood, and traditional plastic for. Hemp grows many, many time faster than trees, it’s a low-water crop compared to wheat, its sustainable, and it biodegrades much faster. Hemp seed has been recommended in nutritional supplements, and may reduce your risk for heart attacks. Hemp doesn’t need pesticides or fertilizers, and is much less damaging to the environment than the typical corn crop. Hemp seed has been called “nutritionally complete” and the plants can also restores depleted soils in farming fields. Hemp can be used so universally, it’s a wonder we ever made it illegal in the first place.

Where Can You Get Hemp Plastic?

Right now, most hemp plastic must be bought in bulk, although Hemp Plastics will make a mold if you pay for it (it’s not cheap). At Hemp Plastics, you can buy raw hemp materials that you can use in a factory for injection molding – It is scratch-resistant, fireproof, UV proof, biodegradable, and compostable, which you certainly can’t say for traditional plastic. Hemp Plastics also has hemp bowls, hemp keyrings, and a 100% hemp box that can be sealed with a sustainable cork top. High fly is a hemp frisbee (but they are not made anymore), and DVD cases are also available from the company, made of hemp. In Australia, Zeoform makes hemp plastic that can be used in injection molding and blown molding for making buttons, drinking straws, home furniture, and Frisbees. Look for more products in the future – and I’ll keep you posted right here.

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